Monday, December 4, 2017

SHARE Opposes Increased Healthcare Costs for Public Employees

As the largest union at UMass Medical School, SHARE brings an important perspective to those Massachusetts state leaders who grapple with budget decisions. At the recent Union Lobby day, we pushed to limit the out-of-pocket expenses that enrollees pay for GIC health plans, contending that public employees should not be so burdened paying for their healthcare. SHARE JOIN Fellow Jihelah Greenwald provides this report about the event . . .
Every year, the Massachusetts AFL-CIO organizes a Union Lobby day. The MA AFL-CIO invites union members and staff from around the state to gather at the capitol to speak with their respective state legislators, lobby on behalf of their members, and demonstrate the collective power of unions.
This October, SHARE sent three organizers to the capitol to lobby our state legislators: Andrea Caceres, Eve Feldberg, and Jihelah Greenwald. Before talking to a few Worcester representatives, the three attended a workshop led by other union leaders to learn about this year’s six legislative goals to support working people:
  • raising the minimum wage,
  • establish collective bargaining rights for Uber and Lyft drivers,
  • bolster the current unemployment safety net while economic times are good,
  • ask Governor Baker to keep the MBTA bus system public,
  • stop wage theft, and
  • limit out-of-pocket healthcare spending for public sector employees covered under the GIC.
Since not all of these issues apply to SHARE members, the SHARE team partnered with a Sheriff's department union member and a MBTA union member from central Massachusetts so each person could speak about the issues that applied to their union.
At the state house our SHARE team and their new union friends, lobbied legislators including Sen. Ryan Fattman and Rep. Joseph McKenna. While the legislators they spoke to were not publicly in favor of most of the issues they were bringing forward, the legislators were open to engaging in conversation and hear about how these issues effect union members who are often their constituents. The SHARE team spoke on behalf of the minimum wage issue, which would have a positive effect on SHARE members' wages because many pay grades begin at a rate below $15/hour. Many of our members who are just beginning their careers often want to invest in further education because they know higher degrees and certifications could increase their wage earning opportunities for the rest of their lives. However, while working full-time for UMass Memorial or UMMS they are unable to make ends meet. So instead of using the spare time to go to school, they are forced to take a second or third jobs to achieve short-term financial stability.
The team also lobbied about high out-of-pocket spending for GIC recipients– an issue that has become increasingly important with our members in the SHARE UMMS local. In the GIC plan, caps on out-of-pocket spending has risen to $5,000/year for individuals and $10,000/year for families! Healthcare costs that high deter our members from getting the preventative care they deserve, can be financially catastrophic for members who are dealing with family medical crises, and, in general, adds stress on members who feel unable to afford to take care of their family's health. This issue is close to the congresspeople's hearts, because they are also covered on the GIC healthcare plan, and were able to personally relate to the problem of high healthcare costs. *
That day the state house was covered with union people winding through every hall meeting with their legislators. It is hard to know if SHARE's individual lobbying efforts changed the minds and votes of any congresspeople, but the overall impact of our collective actions was tangible. Which is the entire point of unions. On our own, it is hard to convince anyone to share wealth or power. But together we are able to negotiate better contracts, or, on a day like Union Lobby Day, influence state laws to benefit all working people. And we know that happier, financially stable working people are the foundation for happy, healthy businesses and communities. It felt invigorating to meet people from all over the state who are active in their unions and local communities, and to remember that even though SHARE UMass Medical and UMMS members work every day in our pocket in Worcester, we are part of a bigger effort to support workers throughout Massachusetts.

* According to AFL-CIO statistics, the state's Group Insurance Commission (GIC)--which dictates health plan costs and structures for Massachusetts employees, including those of us at UMass Medical School--has shifted nearly 300 million dollars of healthcare costs onto workers through increased copayments and deductibles since 2015.

In FY2015, nearly 1,700 families in the GIC had out-of-pocket expenses over $5,000, with many of those families paying up to the current cap of $10,000. (These out-of-pocket expenses are in addition to their premium contributions.) The newly-proposed legislation would cap out-of-pocket maximums for active and retired public employees at $2,500 for individuals, and $5,000 per family.

We are working with other unions to support bills introduced by Senator James Timilty (S.1474) and Representative Paul Mark (H.2569). These are designed to limit the out-of-pocket expenses that enrollees pay for GIC health plans.